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convair880mfan
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From experience, do airline pilots have a sense of how high they are above terrain by looking out the window?

Thu Oct 28, 2021 12:32 am

As a passenger it is impossible for me to have an accurate sense of how high I am above the terrain just by looking out the window of an aircraft I am flying on. But I am wondering if this is true of pilots who fly into and out of areas sometimes hundreds of times in their careers. Without looking at the altimeter and just by glancing out the window, do experienced pilots have a sense of their height above terrain?
 
GalaxyFlyer
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Re: From experience, do airline pilots have a sense of how high they are above terrain by looking out the window?

Thu Oct 28, 2021 12:53 am

A good, but not very accurate, idea of altitude. Mostly, by how much detail can be observed. From anywhere below 18,000, very good detail, less so in the thirties, by the middle forties, not worth looking out, not much to see.
 
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Aaron747
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Re: From experience, do airline pilots have a sense of how high they are above terrain by looking out the window?

Thu Oct 28, 2021 2:08 am

convair880mfan wrote:
As a passenger it is impossible for me to have an accurate sense of how high I am above the terrain just by looking out the window of an aircraft I am flying on. But I am wondering if this is true of pilots who fly into and out of areas sometimes hundreds of times in their careers. Without looking at the altimeter and just by glancing out the window, do experienced pilots have a sense of their height above terrain?


For airline pilots an accurate guesstimate is not really a relevant concern except when operating in a mountainous terminal area or specific situations like crossing the Himalayas in the low FL300s. For those of us tooling around in GA aircraft, the ability to judge proximity of terrain out the window is perhaps more important to hone in my estimation.

As a passenger, you can link your tablet or phone to any number of flight tracking products and view the MEF for your location using SkyVector.
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: From experience, do airline pilots have a sense of how high they are above terrain by looking out the window?

Thu Oct 28, 2021 5:35 am

If we're talking approach, the radar altimeter is a big help.

If the runway is unusually narrow or wide, we'll brief it because it can create an illusion. For example a narrow runway can lead you to flare late because you think you're still too high. Trust the computer voice. ;)
 
e38
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Re: From experience, do airline pilots have a sense of how high they are above terrain by looking out the window?

Thu Oct 28, 2021 4:16 pm

convair880mfan wrote:
do experienced pilots have a sense of their height above terrain?


convair880mfan, with what amount of accuracy are you asking?

I'm somewhat aware of what terrain features look like when below 10,000 feet AGL. Above that, it becomes much more abstract.

Keep in mind it also depends on conditions--flat versus mountainous or hilly terrain; outside lighting; if ground features are snow covered or dry, etc.

So, without reference to an altimeter, on a clear day, I can generally determine altitude when around, and below, 10,000 feet AGL, but certainly not with any degree of accuracy.

e38
 
GalaxyFlyer
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Re: From experience, do airline pilots have a sense of how high they are above terrain by looking out the window?

Thu Oct 28, 2021 4:48 pm

It’s all relative. Fly on an A-10 deployment for two weeks almost all flying including traffic patterns below 500’ and flying at home at normal altitudes feels like outer space. Fly for 12 hours at F450 over water and 5,000’ feet feels like skimming the Earth.

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